From: Greegor on

Iowa should rethink child abuse registry
The Register's editorial • May 28, 2010

In November, the Register's editorial page told the story of Greg
Geist. After a teenage boy accused him of abuse, the Iowa Department
of Human Services put his name on the state child abuse registry. As a
result, he lost his job, had to cash out his retirement savings and
eventually declared bankruptcy. More than a year later, an
administrative law judge found the DHS findings "to be incorrect."
Geist's name was removed from the registry - after the damage to him
was done.

Iowa lawmakers said Geist's story made obvious the need for changes to
the abuse registry.

Here's another reason change is needed: Last month, an appeals court
in North Carolina ruled that state's procedure for placing someone's
name on the abuse registry - which is similar to Iowa's process - is
unconstitutional. People should have an opportunity to defend
themselves before being placed on a list, according to the court.

In Iowa, human services workers - not a court - determine who is an
abuser. The accused are not allowed an independent review before being
placed on the registry. Most of these Iowans are never charged with a
crime. They stay on the list for a decade unless they can get their
name removed. Meanwhile, being on the list may prevent them from
working with kids or getting custody of their children in a divorce.

Other Iowans contacted the Register after Geist's story ran. They told
similar stories of not being able to defend themselves prior to being
added to the registry. One never knew she was on it until she applied
for a job. Some callers had gotten into conflicts with their own
rebellious teenagers and felt they unfairly landed on the state's

We shared these stories with lawmakers. One senator said it was wrong
for the state to treat people as if they're guilty before they can
prove their innocence. Another legislator said people shouldn't lose
their jobs while they wait for an appeal. Yet another lawmaker said
denying people due process rights was an example of a "real process
problem," and she was working on addressing it.

They talked about doing something. They held hearings on it. They even
drafted legislation.

But they made no changes to the law to help Iowans wrongly accused of
abuse from being placed on the registry. Rather, lawmakers established
an interim committee to study the matter.

They should get busy studying because here's another troubling tidbit:
Iowa has a population of about 3 million people and 60,000 names on
its child abuse registry. North Carolina has a population three times
larger - and only 9,000 people on its registry.

Something is wrong in Iowa.

At the very least, lawmakers must ensure people have adequate due
process rights before the state labels them "abusers." Lawmakers need
to set a higher bar for placing people on the registry than the
current standard of "more likely than not" abuse occurred. Ultimately,
this state needs to think carefully about the very existence of a
publicly accessible blacklist of tens of thousands of people who were
never convicted of a crime. Is it unconstitutional? Does it really
protect children?